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Updated: Friday, November 19, 2021, 17:12 [IST]

Provided by Deutsche Welle

New Delhi, November 19 Alfred Sebastian inspecting the area where his kitchen was located. Now there is no sign of the floor. The walls are broken. Only hardware tools and some other machines are visible. It is located in the village of Dernau in the Ahar valley of West Germany. At first it was like any other developed village in Germany but the catastrophic floods of July destroyed everything. The whole picture changed.

“It all happened so quickly that we didn’t even get a chance to get our stuff to safety. We didn’t expect that there would be so much water all of a sudden,” says Sebastian.

Ahar valley is known for its vineyards. The river Ahar, which flows here, usually does not have much water but due to heavy rains in the month of July, the river took shape and the area was completely destroyed. No one got a chance to save anything.

Sebastian is the mayor of Dernau. After the flood, her basement and ground floor were filled with water and mud. He was forced to shift to the upper floor. His home was a short distance from the hill, so he didn’t suffer much damage.

The floods killed more than 130 people in the valley. More than 17,000 homes were destroyed or their belongings spilled. According to Sebastian, 400 of the city’s 500 homes in Dernau are deserted. Residents are grappling with the question of whether to migrate or stay here in case of floods.

“A lot of people have already sold their homes for fear of the rain. They don’t want to live in the shadow of the fear of sudden floods. However, my thoughts aren’t like that. Nevertheless, I’ve always been,” says Sebastian. There is a fear of flooding. “

Flood plane reconstruction

The government has released 30 billion euros in aid to flood victims. Authorities have also published maps of the new flood plain in the Ahar river valley. It is shown in places where new construction is not allowed. Local officials say only 34 of the thousands of damaged homes have not been allowed to be rebuilt.

Most residents of the flood plain will be allowed to repair and rebuild their homes as before. However, the use of many machines will be banned. Full details are yet to be released in the wake of the floods, but the regulatory authority says it could include measures such as installing fuse boxes on the upper floors. This will ensure uninterrupted power supply in case of floods.

Sebastian says it is not yet clear whether insurance companies will provide natural disaster coverage for residents rebuilding floodplains.

Life in flight or fear?

Professor Christian Kuhlik, an expert on environmental hazards and extreme events at the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research in Leipzig, says there is a need for a “fundamental change” in the way people build in wetlands like the Ahar Valley. It is unsafe to live here. Often there is a risk of flooding. Living here can be even more dangerous if a ‘fundamental change’ is not made.

Kuhlike says settling in a higher area could be a better decision for people in the area. He refers to the American city of Walmeyer. After a catastrophic flood in 1993, the city was completely relocated from the Mississippi Valley to the nearby hills.

“It’s now a prosperous community near the St. Louis border. If people want to get out of the floodplain, they have to be helped,” he says. In the case of Ahar Valley, he prefers people to live elsewhere rather than in flood-proof buildings.

He says if the right to decide how to rebuild the area or relocate people is left to residents, it is a political signal. That means we want to keep the valley residents.

Flood resistant house

Kuhlik insisted that nothing could be done to stop the July floods because of heavy rains. However, there are some ways to reduce the damage caused by floods.

For example, use strong doors and windows to prevent flood water from entering the house, use wet floodproofing to allow flood water to enter the house, use construction materials that are not water resistant Etc.

During reconstruction, CO2 emissions should also be considered so that the climate is not adversely affected. “One can only hope that they actually have some engineers and architects who can help people build sustainable construction,” he says.

It is no longer just a matter of moving. Sebastian says work will have to be done on storing more water in the area and along the river to reduce the impact of any future flooding. This includes the retention basin upstream.

Opportunity to recreate separately

Sebastian sees the rebuilding of the city as an opportunity for change. A group of researchers has proposed how the region could generate 100% of its energy supply from renewable energy by 2027. For example, using wind power, installing solar panels on roofs, etc.

He says the lesson from the floods is that in the future, Derno’s homes will not be heated by fossil fuels. Currently, about a quarter of households in Germany are heated with fossil fuels.

Many heating systems leaked due to floods and contaminated homes. Increased fuel loss and rebuilding costs. Now Sebastian wants to build a state-of-the-art heating network powered by renewable energy.

“We need a lot of help,” he says. If the Ahar Valley is to become a model area for the use of renewable energy, we will need more money and that too immediately. Otherwise people will start using the old method. I’ll start doing it. “

Balance is needed

It is expected that due to climate change, extreme weather events around the world will increase rapidly in the future. In that case, it would be necessary to build flexible homes, as we would have to move to renewable energy sources. However, in the midst of all this, what about the materials used in the reconstruction process?

Materials like concrete and steel are widely used in construction. The manufacturing sector accounted for about 40% of global energy-related emissions in 2019.

Build Change is an NGO that builds homes for people at risk of hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, etc., who have the least damage during a disaster. Its CEO, Elizabeth Hausler, says, “Of course, balancing is important.

“For example, the use of reinforced concrete blocks in storm-prone areas should be encouraged,” she says. Concrete is considered a reliable and climate-friendly material, but it requires cement to make it. Cement alone is responsible for 8% of global CO2 emissions.

Hausler stressed that our first priority should be to ensure that homes are not completely out of place, so that there is no more carbon emissions during reconstruction.

The streets of Darnau village are still completely deserted. The brown line at the top of most of the buildings represents the height at which the river water level rose during the flood. Mayor Alfred Sebastian expects 90 percent of the 2,000 villagers to return and rebuild their homes.

He says, “This village used to be a paradise. After the floods it has become like a desert. We hope that in the next 10 years we will make it a paradise again and we will not have to face such terrible floods again. “No one can guarantee that.”

Report: Natalie Alex MāĻ°ller

Source: DW

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Rebuilding or rehabilitating after a flood

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